Briton Ferry dock tower

Briton Ferry dock tower

This tower is a relic of the hydraulic system which operated machinery at Briton Ferry dock, to the north.

Aerial photo of Briton Ferry dock in 1934
Briton Ferry dock in 1934, courtesy of the RCAHMW and its Coflein website

The dock was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, soon after he engineered the South Wales Railway (Chepstow-Swansea) which opened in 1850 and passed the upper end of the dock. Brunel died in 1859, two years before the dock was opened by the Briton Ferry Dock & Railway Company.

The tower housed an accumulator, supplied by Sir William Armstrong. Inside, a weight pushed down on water in a cylinder. The high-pressure water operated the lock gate, cranes and other machinery. The weight gradually descended as water was used. It was moved back up the tower by power from a stationary steam engine nearby.

There were walls around the lock gate but the rest of the dock had sloping banks, which were reinforced by dumping waste from the nearby copper works. Ships moored at short jetties.

The lock gate, made in Chepstow, kept the dock water deep enough for ships to stay afloat. It included a buoyancy device, reducing strain on the hinges and the force needed to open or close it.

Aerial photo of Briton Ferry dock in 1936
Briton Ferry dock, tidal harbour and breakwater in 1936,
courtesy of the RCAHMW and its Coflein website

Captain Frederick Hoole met his death here in 1883 while returning to his steamship, named Caroline. He slipped and fell into the dock. In 1894 there was an explosion at the dock on the Frederikke of Norway, recently loaded with culm (coal dust). The ship was damaged and the ship’s mate had all the hair burned off his head.

By the end of the 19th century, land near the dock was occupied by steelworks and tinplate works (on both sides) and the Cambrian coke works, in the wedge of land between the tidal harbour and river Neath.

The 1930s aerial photos, courtesy of the Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Wales, are from the Aerofilms Collection of the National Monuments Record of Wales. Use the lock gate and tower to orientate the views.

Foundations for the A48 road viaduct were built in the uppermost end of the dock c.1950. The dock closed in 1959 and is now dry. The tower was renovated and reroofed in 2009.

Postcode: SA11 2GA    View Location Map